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Jack Gladney the Absurd Man_Essay on DeLilo's White Noise

Jack Gladney the Absurd Man_Essay on DeLilo's White Noise

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Published by: sjschu on Dec 08, 2009
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09/03/2010

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Jack Gladney: The Absurd Man
Don DeLillo’s
White Noise
 
is foremost a story about one man’s effort to come to terms
with the absurdity of his existence. Jack Gladney, the main character, is obsessed with death. Inmany ways, Jack represents the modern man. As an atheist, he ascribes to no religious creed andno metaphysical structure that offers a reassuring order to the universe. In Jack there is no
certainty of God’s existence, no afterlife, no
a priori
meaning to life, life is absurd in the sense of 
Camus’ existentialism. For Jack, death is an unfathomable black void lying in wait for the stop
of his heart beat. Unable to accept the inevitability of his death and the absurdity of an existencewithout essential meaning, Jack is tormented by an uncontrollable fear for the end of his ownlife.In order to avoid confronting the existential question posed by his fear of death, Jack employs a variety of strategies in the course of the book. These strategies involve the creation of 
simulacra, as addressed by Jean Baudrillard in his article “The Precession of Simulacra,” behind
which Jack attempts to hide from his fear and avoid the existential question, is there any meaningat all in life? Ultimately, however, the fear of death, and the existential question that this fearforces onto Jack, penetrates his defensive simulacra, forcing him to accept the absurdity of 
existence and create life’s meaning for himself. By the end of 
White Noise
, Jack becomes the
absurd man in the Camuian sense. One by one, Jack’s simulacra, the consumer, the Hitler expert,
and the killer, are shattered. They fall in rapid succession once Jack gains the knowledge thatdeath is immanent, he has been infected by the deadly toxic chemical Nyodene D and nothingcan prevent him from confronting his fear of death and the absurdity of existence.
Man’s search for meaning in consumerism is a major theme of 
White Noise
. The whitenoise represents the sound of consumption, manifested, among other ways, in the incessantblaring of the television and radio, the sound of cars, and the jingles that repeat over and over
again in the Jack’s mind, urging him towards consumption and the instant gratification that
 
comes with buying things. The consumer, and the meaning inherent within consumerism, is a
simulacrum of Baudrillard’s
(pg. 347) fourth order
 — 
it bears no relation to any realitywhatsoever. Consumerism can have no meaning in itself. In a universe without
a priori
meaningprovided by God, one must look inside oneself to create any meaning for existence. Theconsumption of goods and services, being outside of oneself since one creates nothing in the actof buying, can present no inherent meaning for life. Thus, the Consumer is a fourth ordersimulacrum - any preexisting meaning to consumption is wholly a simulation.
The Gladney family’s trip to the mall illustrates the consumer simulacrum (p
g. 82-4).
Jack describes the mall’s noise as, “the human buzz of s
ome vivid and happy transaction.
As
the Consumer, “brig
htne
ss” settles around Jack. As he buys, he “began to gro
w in value and self regard.
 
He feels “expansive”, and the sums Jack spends on his goods “came back to [Jack] in
the form of existential credit.
However, the
Consumer’s feeling of fulfillment is fleeting. When
Jack learns of his immanent death due to the Nyodene in his body, the consumer simulacrum isshattered. Jack knows that the Consumer will deter his fear of death, he must confront death andthe existential question that it brings. Consequently, Jack begin purges himself of many of theunnecessary items that he, as the Consumer, has collected (pg. 294). In doing so, he prepareshimself to confront death and the absurdity of existence by rejecting the consumer simulacrum.
The Hitler expert
is another simulacrum that Jack employs in order to avoidconfronting his fear of death, and the absurdity of existence. For contemporary society, Hitlerhas become an archetypal figure of death. Killing millions in a mad quest to purify the Germanrace, Hitler will live in infamy as the most horrific murderer mankind has produced. Hitler is a
historical character that takes on a persona that is “larger than death” (
pg. 287), becoming almostgodlike as the full manifestation of the human capacity for evil, the measure against which allevildoers will heretofore be judged. Jack made himself the preeminent expert on Hitler, teachingHitler studies at a Middle American liberal arts college, forging for himself the simulacrum of 
 
the Hitler expert. In Baudrillard’s terms, the Hitler expert is a simulacrum of the third order 
(Baudrillard, 347). The Hitler expert is a third order simulacrum since it masks the absence of abasic reality that Jack has come to terms with
 — 
death. In becoming the preeminent expert on thismost infamous historical figure, Jack could not help but to be confronted daily with death in all
of its grandiose Nazi horror. Jack’s Hitler expert simulacrum takes the form of an imposing
figure, always in dark glasses and an academic robe. The image is of a powerful, loomingacademic who, knowing the mind of Hitler so well, has accepted and affirmed all the horror anddeath that Hitler is responsible for. However, this image masks the absence of Jack having cometo terms with death. By no means has Jack mastered his uncontrollable fear of death, in doing sohe must confront the absurd -
Jack’s real challenge.
 The Hitler expert simulacrum shrouds Jack. He hides behind it, trying to use it a shieldto ward off his fear and the existential question that his fear brings to bear on him. The
knowledge of his immanent death due to Nyodene D infection makes Jack’s fear of death all the
more immanent. Now, as is related to the reader through Jac
k’s conversation with Murray
(p.287-88), Jack is no longer able to ward off the confrontation with his fear, and the absurdity of existence, using the Hitler expert simulacra.With the consumer and Hitler expert simulacra shattered, Jack turns to the killersimulacrum in a final attempt at deflecting his realization of the absurdity of existence through
confronting his fear of death. The idea that by killing, one can somehow defeat death and “gainlife credit,” presented to Jack by Murray (290), represents
a fourth level simulacrum since itbears no relation to any reality whatsoever. No matter how many people one kills, death remainsinevitable and possible at any moment. The killer simulacrum is manifested as an ambient
vibration that surrounds and exults Jack the Killer in the hotel room. “Great and namelessemotions thudded in my chest. I knew who I was in the network of meanings.” This, however, is

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